THE GREEN LINING

There is something to be said for an economic crunch: it forces us to get creative. If this particular downturn has any lining at all, my hope is that it’s green rather than silver. I don’t mean the green of ecology, I mean the literal green of the plant material on your property. If you know how to use it, that green is the equivalent of gold when selling your house.

First things first: make an inventory of what you have. How many trees? What varieties? How old? If you don’t know, get a consult from a reputable arborist or landscaper. It will cost you a bit and be worth every penny. A twenty-year-old tree is more valuable than a two-year-old, and not just in aesthetics; it has an actual dollar value.

The next step, of course, is to do the same with your shrubs and perennials. If you think the job is too tedious, just keep those dollar signs in front of your eyes and press on. You may find, especially if you’ve lived in the house for many years, that you’ve accumulated more material than you realize. Want to know what your plants would cost in today’s market? Take a tour through your favorite nursery and compare yours to theirs. How many pots would you have to buy to equal even one clump of your old-growth peonies? How many day lilies or siberian iris; how much fern or blood root or lady’s mantle?

When it comes to shrubs it’s a more difficult calculation — the ones on your property undoubtedly are larger and fuller — but take a look at the price of even a small clump of common lilac. I guarantee you’ll view your stand of lilac in a different light when you see that it can give you more than a lovely Spring show. The same is true for your quince, your viburnum, your hydrangea, and for anything else you have. Note the age if you know it, and the variety if you remember it.

When the inventory’s done, you’ll be able to gauge the approximate replacement cost and arrive at a ‘green’ value. Generate a list of these materials, and give it to your broker to include with the information that goes to prospective buyers. You won’t get a dollar-for-dollar exchange, but that data will bolster your asking price and could help make the sale.

The job doesn’t end there, of course; the landscape needs to make the best impression possible on a potential buyer. When you show your house the property essentially goes on an interview, and a little spit and polish is called for. Here are the five best things you can do to present that winning image:

• Inventory your perennials and regroup wherever possible. Mass plantings add drama and make a great first impression.

• Elevate the canopy of leggy, overgrown ornamental shrubs like Rhododendron by removing the lower limbs. The exposed branches are often wonderfully gnarled and knotted, and the garden takes on an airy feel that adds grace and fluidity.

• Connect planting beds — visually or physically — and remove elements that make the space seem choppy. A unified visual field looks larger and more substantial.

• Prune shrubs, particularly those that crowd pathways and windows. Older landscapes often dwarf their houses; righting the imbalance will make the house “read” bigger and brighter.

• Put a clean edge on the gardens and walkways, and cut mulch circles around the trees. Good grooming isn’t just for you — it makes the property look polished, too.

c.2008

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